In the spring of 2003, SaskPower and Clear-Green Environmental Inc. announced a two-year partnership to demonstrate technology that uses animal manure to generate heat and electricity, and test its viability as part of SaskPower's distributed generation initiative.
During the project, biogas will be produced at a hog facility near Cudworth, Saskatchewan using a digester process, which relies on bacteria to break down the manure in a large enclosed tank. The biogas, which is predominantly methane, will be drawn off and piped into four microturbines, generating enough electricity for approximately 30 homes.
Using the biogas created from manure to produce electricity has economic and environmental potential within the hog industry. Manure related methane emissions represent a significant component of Saskatchewan's greenhouse gas emissions inventory. Combusting the biogas converts the methane into carbon dioxide, a less potent greenhouse gas, thereby reducing Saskatchewan's greenhouse gas emissions.
However, environmentalists question the environmental impacts of intensive livestock operations on a number of grounds, even if the manure can be turned into a cleaner form of energy.
Significant wood residues are produced at a number of mills in Saskatchewan's boreal forest. One study puts the annual volume of residues at 1.7 million cubic metres. In addition, more that 6 million cubic metres of residue are already stockpiled.
Wood wastes were once used as a fuel to operate burners at the northern mills. Along with the characteristic odour, the old-style beehive burners produced significant amounts of air pollutants. Eliminating the burners has not been a satisfactory solution, however, since the wastes were simply stockpiled or put in landfills and burned.
Studies show that converting wastes into energy results in cleaner air and reduces emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Electricity from biomass may eventually replace coal-fired power for Northern Saskatchewan, a major source of GHGs. Producing power on site in northern communities is also more efficient, resulting in additional energy savings by reducing the power lost moving electricity across hundreds of kilometres of line from southern power plants. Because of 15% line-losses, approximately 1.2 kW of energy must be produced for every 1 kW delivered to a northern community.
SaskPower is projecting up to 65 MW of electrical capacity from Saskatchewan forestry wastes. The utility and the Zelensky Brothers Sawmill in La Ronge have already teamed up on a wood gasification demonstration project.
Synthetic gas produced from wood residue at the sawmill site will fuel two internal combustion engines to produce 600 kW of electricity. Approximately 10 tonnes of wood residue per day will be converted to gas. Waste heat from the engines will be used in a kiln to dry green lumber.
If the demonstration proves successful, a larger, 5 MW cogeneration plant is planned for the community.
Forestry and agricultural residues can also be converted into ethanol, which can then be blended with gasoline. A "New Generation Co-op" formed at Nipawin has plans to produce 75 million litres of "biomass ethanol" annually. Once successfully demonstrated, this technology package may result in the development of several ethanol plants in the North.
While ethanol production from grain has been criticized by environmentalists, production from wood and agricultural wastes is generally welcomed.
Proponents of the Nipawin project anticipate annual revenues of $35-40 million and the creation of 60-70 new jobs. GHG reductions from biomass conversion-including the 275,000 tonne reduction resulting from the Nipawin ethanol plant-will help meet Canada's targets for reduced emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and may also result in the sale of carbon credits on national and international markets.